"Ginny," Arthur said as he put the day's copy of the Daily Prophet down on the kitchen table. "Have you seen the newspaper?"
She looked closely at her father who was staring straight back at her. It was rare that he gave her such straight attention but right now he was holding her gaze. He was obviously determined that she was going to understand what was going on and what she needed to know.
Ginny pulled the paper towards her and glanced at the front page. Looking back up at her from the wizarding tabloid was the greasy haired, hook nosed professor; the Death Eater who had murdered Dumbledore was staring back up at her. He looked exceptionally smug and had every right to since he had just been declared the new Headmaster of Hogwarts. Hard cold fury burned inside her. That Death Eater had been responsible for so much pain and suffering over the last few months and was now responsible for her education. Worse than that, she was at the will of a man who, if he had got his way, would have had no problems in killing her brother.
How on earth could this be allowed to happen? And what could she do to change it? How could she make him pay?
"Ginny," her father said, breaking through her thoughts as if he were an accomplished Legilimens. "I need you to listen to me now."
"Arthur," her mother's voice drifted over from the kitchen sink, where she had been cleaning up the morning's breakfast plates, before they left. "We need to be going."
"This is important and will only take one moment," he turned his attention back to his daughter. "I want you to be very careful this year."
"If there's one thing you can guarantee, it's that Snape knows all about the Order, our role in it, our family and more importantly, what went on between you and Harry." He paused to add weight to his words. "You will be watched very closely this year. Hogwarts will be a dangerous place especially," he dropped his voice and glanced at the window, "if you appear to know about Harry or support his actions."
She looked directly at him, brown eyes met blue as she returned the same stern gaze that he had given her, "You can't expect me to do nothing about this."
"I didn't say that I expect or want you to do nothing." He smiled at her. "I just want you to think long and carefully over what you do; don't put yourself in danger." Arthur got to his feet and kissed her on the top of her head. "Now, I must be getting to work; have a good term."
She watched carefully as her dad crossed the room and embraced her mum quickly. Her parents broke apart with a small kiss. Ginny was sure that her parents exchanged a worried look. They were positive that she was missing these looks but it was easy to tell the strain that had come on the family over the last month.
Molly Weasley looked shrewdly at her daughter, "Ginny, why don't you go upstairs and collect your trunk and you might as well take Pigwidgeon with you."
"But..." she started.
"Now!" Her mother's voice was raised.
She decided not to fight them, even though the frustration was flowing through every inch of her body. When were they going to stop treating her as a child? She had fought Death Eaters three times in the last two years, if you included the crashing of Bill and Fleur's wedding, with no more than a broken leg. She had the feeling that even after she came of age next year, they would still struggle to see her as anything other than the baby of the family.
Ginny got to her feet reluctantly and went to the stairs, but instead of going up to her room, she paused and sat down. She had sat here so often, hidden from her parents, as she listened to their hushed voices having a conversation that she was deemed too young to take part in. Carefully she pulled out an Extendable Ear from her pocket and let it trail down to the kitchen.
"Do you think that she will be okay?"
"She'll be fine, Molly," Arthur reassured her. "We are pure-blood," he continued in a bitter tone that Ginny had never heard before. "She is protected by a status that many would do a great deal for with everything happening under the new laws." He paused, obviously responding to some non-verbal form of communication. "Ginny is a fighter and she is intelligent with good instincts; she'll work out how to handle this all for the best."
"But what if she does something rash? What if she does something for Harry? What if she hears about all the 'Undesirable Number One' talk?" Her voice sounded worried. "Ginny has such a temper. What if she loses her temper?"
"I guess we will just have to trust her." There was a long pause. "I will see you tonight. Be careful at King's Cross; I wish I could be there with you."
"So do I, but we'll be fine." There was another long pause before, "Ginny, hurry up with that trunk, I want to leave now."
Ginny slowly climbed the rest of the stairs and went to her room to grab her trunk. With one hand on Ron's owl cage and the other on the large Hogwarts trunk, her eyes fell on a piece of parchment on her desk — the very thing that she had been writing last night. Dropping the cage and trunk with a rattle and thud, she crossed the room and stared at the piece of parchment. After what felt like an eternity, carefully and slowly she picked it up.
The house has become a madhouse since you left. I'd love to tell you everything, but I keep getting hushed upstairs every time anyone arrives. Not that I've not heard anything; Fred and George took pity on me after the first meeting that followed the wedding and gave me some Extendable Ears to use. Luckily Mum hasn't put an Imperturbable Charm on the kitchen door yet. I'm not sure if it's because she trusts me more than the boys or whether it's because she has resigned herself to the fact that I will find out anyway and doesn't want the house filled with Dung Bombs.
Speaking of Mum, she has been extra protective recently, especially with all of you gone. Really, Harry, you could have given me some more warning before the quick exit. I wasn't that prepared, so the act took a while to get going. It has led to Mum mollycoddling me more than normal — pun intended. She thinks that her baby has had her heart broken over the break up and maybe just this time she is right but don't you ever let her know that. And don't worry, I haven't told her why we broke up although once again, I think she may have a fair idea.
Other than that, I've been playing a bit of Quidditch in the paddock. I've been trying some new moves, even perfecting the Divine Glide and Suicide Sprint — where do they get those names? I know Quidditch is not that important at the moment, far from it, but it passes the time and keeps me from worrying about where you are. There's nothing like the feeling of flying, but I don't need to tell you about the feeling of leaving your worries on the ground and soaring above them.
Everything is set for Hogwarts in the morning, not that I can see the point in it, but as I keep getting told, we all have our part to play and I'll do what I can. Not sure what that involves yet but I'm sure Neville and Luna will come up with some interesting ideas tomorrow. I wonder if McGonagall will let us reform the D.A., although somehow I think she'll have the same ideas as Mum about 'children' and wars.
The only thing left to say, is how much I miss you and want to spend time with you. Is it selfish to want this damn war to end so I can have you there to hold my hand and not because people are dying? But then I have to keep reminding myself why I like you so much and that's because you are the hero here, you know what's right and are willing to sacrifice everything to get that right thing.
You know, each time I think about you 'like' is growing into so much more.
Take care of yourself, Harry, and try not to do too many of those stupid, noble things like getting yourself killed. I really need you to make it back in one piece.
Writing him daily letters was the only release that she had had. These letters provided the only sign that she was willing to show about how much she missed him and how desperate she was even to spend a second longer with him. If she could turn back the months she would make her kisses last that little bit longer, hold that little bit tighter in those hugs and not waste all those other hours when she was doing things that had not involved spending time with him.
While she may have broken up with both Dean and Michael, she had been the 'dumper' and not the 'dumpee'. More importantly, she hadn't had her heart broken before. Those relationships may have lasted longer than her one with Harry, but they hadn't been anywhere near as deep and they had been given their time to run their courses. The relationship with Harry had been cut short when it had just been starting to grow and blossom.
It just all seemed so unfair.
Looking out the window, she watched Errol fly into the kitchen directly below. It was amazing how life just went on. She looked aimlessly out the window for a further few minutes.
"Ginny," her mum's voice called up the stairs.
"I'll be down in a minute, Mum," she called back.
Ginny checked behind her to see that no one had followed her up the stairs. Once she knew it was safe, she opened the desk drawer and pulled out a set of matches.
Carefully she lit one of the matches and held it up against the light before picking up the letter in her other hand. Within seconds it caught light and she let it fall into a bowl as it shrivelled up into ashes. Emptying the contents out the window, she let all her disappointments and longings fall with the remains of the letter. There was no time for all of that; there were much more important things than a broken heart.
The journey to King's Cross in the taxi was in almost complete silence and tension filled the air. There was so much that she wanted to say that could not be said in front of a Muggle in the current climate and so many other things that neither of the Weasley women wanted to talk about.
How did you say goodbye when you knew that this may be the last time you said it?
Ginny felt a shudder run down her spine when she even thought about the goodbye and she felt her mother's hand rubbing the small of her back. They both knew that this school year was going to be different. There where no guarantees that she would return home safely and that she would have a home or family to return to.
She let her head fall on her mother's shoulder as they exited M25 and entered London. She could let her guard drop for that little while before she built it up for her year of hell. Only as the taxi pulled in at the entrance did she snap out of her daze and pull herself together.
King's Cross was crowded as always as they made their way through it and it appeared that the tension that they had felt in the taxi was extended to families littered across platform Nine and Three Quarters. Worried looks were etched across parents' faces and children that often shrugged their parents' hugs were holding on that little bit tighter. This was contrasted by the few, the likes of the Malfoys, Crabbes, Goyles, Parkinsons and Notts, strolling up and down like proud peacocks.
Ginny held onto her mother just like so many others and felt that little extra squeeze before she pulled away.
"I'll be fine, Mum." She spoke in a stiff tone as she glanced at the train.
"Just make sure you are." A forced smile fell on her mum's lips. "Sixth year is important, and your NEWTs are nastily exhausting for a reason, so make sure you devote your spare time to studying and not extracurricular clubs."
"I'll make sure I study," she said, not willing to commit to that promise. "And I'll be home for Christmas."
"I love you, Ginny," Molly said softly before she kissed her daughter on the forehead and steam bellowed out from beneath the train, "Now go. I don't want you in any trouble this year."
"Love you too, Mum," she said quickly, before hurrying to the train door and letting Neville who had just said goodbye to his grandmother help her with her trunk.
They both stood at the window as the train pulled out of the station before turning to look at each other.
"Let's get a compartment," Neville said, pulling his trunk down the train.
They made their way through the train, finally picking a compartment near the front of the train, which Luna seemed to be saving for them. Uncharacteristically, Luna lowered her copy of The Quibbler and she took a full part in the hurried and hushed conversations and Ginny filled them in on the summer activities. The conversation was quickly brought to a halt as Seamus Finnigan, Lavender Brown and the Patil twins entered the compartment.
The next hour was spent talking about Snape and the Carrows' new plans for Hogwarts which included a great deal of Snape bashing and shampoo related jokes. There were also muttered conversations about the ministry, the registration of Muggle-borns and the missing students from the train.
Around two hours into the journey as they were passing through Sherwood Forest, the train ground to a halt. Reacting on instinct Ginny got to her feet and looked out the window, worry filling every inch of her body. They were still hours away from Hogwarts. An involuntary shudder ran down her spine as she thought of the last time that the train had stopped like this. She was still not sure that she had the courage to face Dementors and the onset of nightmares that she would face if she was forced to remember the events of her first year of Hogwarts.
Gulping, she pushed her fears down to the pit of her stomach. She was a Gryffindor, she was braver than this. If Harry could face Voldemort then surely she could handle some hooded cronies. However, the Dark Forest was doing nothing to help those fears right now.
Slowly Ginny turned back round, Neville and Seamus both with their wands out were standing at the door.
"What is it?" she asked with only a note of fear in her voice.
"Death Eaters," Neville muttered shutting the door.
A wave of relief filled her body even though she knew that she should still be worried. Death Eaters, with their ever-growing power were a huge threat, with no qualms about killing people who were not committed to their cause. But Death Eaters were humans, no matter how inhumanly they acted. She could stand up to humans without that wave of fear and the sense of guilt and shame filling her insides, freezing her on the spot.
Her courage grew as she placed her hand firmly around her wand and the door opened again.
"Names?" the masked figure asked.
"Who's asking?" Ginny shot back, raising her wand and feeling Neville and Luna, who were now flanking her did the same thing.
"I am here on behalf of Minister Thicknesse. Now before anyone gets hurt and without the need to spill unnecessary pure-blood, I will ask again." He spoke in barely a whisper but there was no doubting the meanness in his voice. "Names?
"Lavender Brown, Parvati Patil, Padma Patil, Seamus Finnigan, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood and Ginevra Weasley," Lavender rattled off quickly in a scared voice.
"All fine in here," the Death Eater said to someone out in the corridor before turning back to them. "Weasleys need to learn their place and learn when it is appropriate for them to speak to those thought to be much higher than they are." He pointed his wand directly at Ginny. "How's the boyfriend?"
"Wouldn't know," she spoke quickly without stopping to think, "not seen him in months, but I heard that you were looking for him, so is there any chance you could tell me?"
Ginny's body rocketed backwards with the power of the Stunning Spell and hit the wall below the window. Blacking out as her head thudded against the wall, she could barely hear the noise of footsteps and the voices of her concerned friends. After what could have only been minutes, although it seemed like much longer, she felt herself coming to her senses as the train started to move again. When her eyes slowly fluttered open, she could see Neville cleaning a bloody nose, Seamus holding an ice bag to his eye and Padma in a corner of the compartment using her wand to clean some blood coming from a tear in the clothing of her sister's arm.
"They outnumbered us," Neville answered quietly, "we are going to have to be smarter than that when we take them on this year."
"What were they on here for?" Ginny asked, although she was sure she already knew the answer.
"Checking our blood status," Seamus spat, as he stared at the window.
Using Luna for support, she got to her feet. She almost sank straight back to the floor as she saw a group of a dozen children who looked to be between first- and fourth-years surrounded by twice as many Death Eaters. These were students who obviously did not have the right blood status.
"Muggle-borns or kids of Muggle-borns," Seamus said in a whisper that was deafening.
Ginny sank down to her knees and placed her head in her hands. She had never really thought about her blood status and the fact that she was a pure-blood. Yes, there had been remarks in the past by Slytherin students but that was it. Believing in people's pure-blood status was, at the very least, primitive and racist but now it was growing into so much more as the Death Eaters looked to clean the blood and it turned to murder.
The rest of the journey was a blur as she focused on her DA coin from two years ago, trying to work out how Hermione had worked the Protean Charm when she made the enchanted galleons. Whether the others were aware of her failure to manipulate the coin, she wasn't sure. Her preoccupation took over to the extent that she was only dully aware of leaving the train and entering the castle only taking a moment to notice that the only house table that was not missing any students was the Slytherin one before she let Snape's speech wash over her as she pushed her plate away at the feast.
There had to be a way of stopping what happened on the train from taking place again.
That night she barely slept as she looked through Ron's battered copy of the Standard Book of Spells Grade 6 and tried not to think of anything but the DA coin.
At some point that night she must have fallen asleep since, before she knew it, Demelza's hand was on her shoulder and she was getting ready for the first day of the new school year. At breakfast she managed to hold off some of the concerned looks by forcing down a piece of toast, burning her mouth on some coffee and half heartedly joining in the Quidditch conversation, even forcing a smile as she explained that she had been made captain.
When the volume of the noise in the Great Hall dropped and people left for their classes, her stillness became more obvious. She knew if she didn't start acting soon, people would start to become worried about her; she was rarely this quiet or still. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to begin the performance she had started doing around Harry in the holidays.
Smiling, she turned to one of the girls in her dormitory room, as McGonagall approached the sixth-years with their timetables. "So how do you reckon they're going to do this since we didn't finish our OWLs?"
"Dunno, maybe they'll use our predicted grades," Elizabeth replied as she played with a strand of her brown hair. "I hope so, as Slughorn predicted me an O and I need to have made it into Potions if I'm going to become a Healer like Dad wants me to."
"I'm sure Slughorn will take you," Ginny reassured her friend.
The next ten minutes were fairly standard as McGonagall handed out timetables, but her daze returned when the Head of House gave Ginny the piece of parchment. Ginny stared down at the copy of this year's new timetable. Her eyes were fixed on one block, period one and two, Monday was the Dark Arts with Professor A. Carrow. She continued to glare at the piece of parchment; no longer was she studying Defence Against the Dark Arts, but now just the Dark Arts with a Death Eater. She knew how they had technically got away with changing the name of the subject by claiming it better suited the current climate, but it still unnerved her. She did not even want to think about what spells they would be forced to learn without their counter deflections.
"Ginny," she heard Demelza call through her thoughts. "Are you with us today?"
"Yeah, come on, Ginny," Ritchie echoed his girlfriend's call. "We've already spent forever waiting for McGonagall to get round to dealing with you."
"Don't we always wait forever, waiting for McGonagall to stop talking to her about something or another," Elizabeth said with a small grin, "and she always ends up talking herself out of trouble."
"I've not done anything wrong," Ginny said almost as a reflex action, only half listening to what her friends were saying.
"Yet," Elizabeth replied quickly, "but it really is getting boring waiting for you to get your timetable. I propose we dump her until she changes her surname to something nearer the start of the alphabet." Her grin grew. "Potter would do, at least that moves you up five names on the register."
Ginny looked back down at the timetable again; she did not want them to see her face. Potter may do as a surname in the way distant future, but right now she was nowhere near to looking that far into it. Right now, she would just give anything to know that Harry, Ron and Hermione were all safe. Before she had left for school her brothers had tried to reassure her. Bill stated that no news was good news because with all the press that they were giving it, the Ministry would want to show that they had caught Harry, while Fred had said if she was going to date someone with a massive target on his head she had to expect this and George reminded her that Harry had had the odd scrape before and got through them all. She guessed that they were right but that did not stop her worrying.
She felt Demelza's warm hand grab her shaking one. She hadn't realised how much it was shaking until it was in the calm, still hand of her friend. But it wasn't just her hand that was shaking, it was as if every nerve in her body was in a fury about everything that was happening.
"Come on, Ginny," Demelza gave her arm a small pull. "It's really not worth being late to this lesson."
Ginny felt herself getting to her feet almost as if she were on automatic pilot. She was barely paying attention as she made her way out of the Great Hall, through the entrance way and to the large marble staircase that led to the first floor. Without much thought she turned left and headed down to the large Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. However, while she may not have noticed her steps she could see other students keeping their distance and hear an increased number of whispers around her and those whispers were not only limited to unknown students but to her friends as well.
Had she become the new Hogwarts celebrity?
She looked up from the glares to see a few students already gathered outside the room. She smiled to see Luna detached from a group of Ravenclaws, reading a copy of The Quibbler. Giving a quick wave to her Gryffindor friends, she strode over to Luna.
"I need to talk to you," she muttered as the door opened and she pulled her friend to the back of the classroom.
Taking the seats in the back row of the classroom she quickly pulled her book out of her bag, opened it and placed it on her desk as a barrier to the rest of the class. She often bemoaned the size of the Hogwarts textbook but today it was perfect to hide whatever was on her desk. She waited rather impatiently, tapping her quill on the table as Luna put The Quibbler on the table and got out her quills, parchment and ink.
She thought irritably that if patience was a virtue, it was highly overrated.
"You know who that is," Ginny hissed finally as Carrow started to speak.
Luna looked up and studied the new professor. "He looks rather different in those robes," she observed.
Ginny glared at the professor. She had last seen that Death Eater when he was trying to hex her, laughing at her as she dodged the Cruciatus Curse. The cruel laughs showed her that he was enjoying the sport of trying to hurt her. The words 'You can't dance forever, Pretty' were fixed in her head. If she closed her eyes right now she was positive that she would be able to see those red sparks flying just past her, hear Harry's Impediment jinx and the pig-like squeal that had followed it as he had slammed into a wall. If she could remember it all that clearly, she was positive that the Death Eater could.
"Yes, sir," her friend replied in her dreamlike voice.
Ginny found herself barely paying attention to a lot of the register, instead continuing to glare defiantly as he ran through the rest of the names. She had no intention of making that Death Eater forget their last meeting and she was not going to listen to his talks on the Dark Arts. Instead, she was going to fight him each step of the way.
"We need a DA meeting tonight," she whispered to Luna. "See who's willing to fight against this."
"Oh, it will be fun to have those again," Luna said conversationally as she turned a page of The Quibbler. "Can we work the Galleons?"
"I'm working on it." Ginny glanced at the magazine to see if there was anything interesting in it. "The problem is with the Protean Charm. Hermione made Harry's the key one and changing his would effect the others, not the other way around." She looked at Luna. "Do you know how to get around that? It would be useful to have a Ravenclaw on the task."
"I can see how that would help."
"Weasley, Ginevra." Carrow's voice broke through their conversation; he had obviously reached the end of the register.
"Yes," Ginny muttered.
"Yes, sir," she replied with as much bitterness in the final word as she could muster.
The squat. lumpy wizard placed his parchment down on his desk, picking up a short black wand. He held the wand in this hand, running his fingers up and down it before turning his attention back to the class. He looked at the students in front of him, like a dragon looking at its prey. He was looking for a victim and Ginny was positive she knew who it was going to be.
"You will be studying the three main curses this year, practising them and putting them into use on those in detentions."
"That's illegal," Ginny called rashly before thinking about what she was doing.
All the warnings that her parents had given her had disappeared. How could she keep her head down and keep out of trouble when the new administration wanted them to torture people? She refused to sit here and do nothing.
Besides, it looked like she would not be able to keep a low profile even if she wanted to.
A swipe of Carrow's wand and the protective shield of her book, 'The Dark Arts', had fallen flat to the table. Everyone in the class was now looking at her with hungry, eager, worried or just plan curious looks on their faces. She picked up her own wand and held onto it tightly, feeling the power radiate through her.
"Laws have been changed." He was smiling. "Come and be the example for the class."
Ginny glared at him. As much as she did not want to go up there she had a feeling there was no way to avoid it. She was going to go up there willingly and not be dragged up like a puppet. She got to her feet, slamming her stool behind her so it made a loud thud as it hit the floor. She walked between the desks, looking straight at the Death Eater, showing no signs of fear but she could feel her heart pounding hard against her ribcage.
"There." He pointed to a spot opposite him.
"Successful Cruciatus' Curses are performed with hatred." Carrow leered at her. A shiver ran down her spine as she could see a slightly lustful expression in his eyes that made her feel sick. "That will come with practice." Slowly he raised his wand, "Cru—"
"Protego." She waved her wand in the air as a shield emerged between the two of them, knocking the Death Eater backwards so he slammed against the windows.
"Fifty points from Gryffindor and detention, Weasley," he said as he slowly got to his feet, "All open your books and copy out chapter one."